In the seventh part of The Kindly Ones, the growing sense we’ve had that Lyta’s story and Dream’s will intersect climactically is solidified by this chapter’s many parallels and apparent omens.
Ominous parallels and forboding omens.
Forced to find a simile for this chapter’s structure, I’d hem and haw a while, then, reluctantly (because of impossibility, because of imperfection) say Part 7 is like a quilt, and every few pages we get a new square, and all the squares are threaded together with the strings of past stories. (You have noticed by now, I’m sure, that each chapter except for the prologue and Part 6 begins with a string across the first panel.) The past stories are stories out of histories and mythologies, and, more and more, past Sandman tales. There is, for me at least, a sense of gathering — gathering characters, gathering plots, gathering stray props and loose ends and spare change.
The quilt metaphor falls apart, of course, when we think about the gravity all this gathering creates, the sense of accumulating momentum toward a — well, toward what, exactly? A climax? A resolution? An end? A new beginning? (A New Hope! Rumors of George Lucas trying to insert Jar Jar Binks into The Sandman are, my sources assure me, entirely without basis in fact. As Dream says to Odin: “Only a fool listens to rumors.” Also, I had a dream last night in which The Sandman himself assured me that Han shot first. Dreams are better than rumors.)
The gravity and momentum, the perception of movement toward Something Big is a powerful undertow through the narrative, one that causes me to want to mix every metaphor I find — our quilt now has gained not only certain Newtonian properties, but oceanic qualities, too! (In dreams, quilts equal mass times wave actions.)
The sense of movement toward Something Big is heightened by the difficulty of defining what that Something Big is. We’ve gotten acclimated to anti-climaxes and resonantly ambiguous resolutions in The Sandman, and the best bet right now might be to take a term from the 1955 film Kiss Me Deadly and call the impending sense of conclusion-or-not a Great Whatsit.
But with a Great Whatsit, we might end up on a beach at the end of the world.
The design of the last few pages of this chapter highlights all of the effects I’ve mentioned so far. Lyta’s story occurs in the bottom panels, while the top 2/3rds of each page give us other stories. Lyta has found, or been found by, the Furies. This event is literally the story beneath the other stories. And then, on the last page of the chapter, it takes over, after all the ravens have left the Tower of London and a kingdom is destined to fall.
Dark, menacing colors and figures. A panel in which Lyta stands in a doorway a bit like John Wayne at the end of The Searchers (the story of a man crazed with vengefulness, genocidal). Tentacles of hair and blood. Grotesque night-blue figures seeming at first to offer no help in Lyta’s quest, then revealing the one truth that will put them on her side: “He did kill his own son.”
Six single-syllable words: he did kill his own son.
How can this end well?
How can this end?
Impossible questions to answer just yet, so let me divert you, instead, with one of my favorite sentences in The Sandman so far, from the top of the penultimate page of this chapter, a vision of Hell: “A makeshift barge made of dead flesh is slowly poled down a river of cold semen.”
Dead flesh and cold semen. (A fine name for a punk band, no?) Detritus of a rotting afterworld and a failed beforeworld.
(How can this end well?)
It is interesting to me, too, that the Furies appropriate the language of feminism, and quite reasonably, too, in decrying the name Lyta uses for them. “Not the Furies, my Lobelia. That’s such a nasty name. It’s one of the things they call women, to put us in our place…” And then a panel with floating words: Termagant, vixen, shrew, virago, witch, bitch. “Do we,” one of the women asks, “look furious to you?”
Indeed. The words for powerful men are so much nicer than the words for powerful women. There are so many fewer insults to hurl at strong men than strong women. Our language associates strength with men, it’s normal, it’s fine, they’re like that, those boys, they’ll be boys, what do you expect — but in words and mythologies, women with chutzpah and gusto and authority are often set up to “get what they deserve”, and what they deserve, of course, is to be shown their place.
Cold semen. Dead flesh.
(How can this end?)
He did kill his own son.
Matthew Cheney has published fiction and nonfiction in a variety of venues, including One Story, Weird Tales, Locus, Rain Taxi, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and elsewhere. A collection, Blood: Stories will be published by Black Lawrence Press in January 2016. He is the former series editor for the Best American Fantasy anthologies and currently a co-editor of the occasional online magazine The Revelator. His blog, The Mumpsimus, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 2005. He is working toward a Ph.D. in Literature at the University of New Hampshire, where his research focuses on the work of Virginia Woolf, J.M. Coetzee, and Samuel R. Delany.